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When Blessings Become Idols
Author: Julie Simpson
November 28, 2018
I was in the hospital on bed rest for nine weeks after my water broke at 23 weeks pregnant. It was a terrifying time, a nightmare of wondering if the next monitoring session would show that my son had died in the womb, or that a sudden fever would mean I had contracted a dangerous infection. I struggled against panic attacks and insomnia and depression. But most of all, I struggled with God.
“If you take this baby from me,” I remember praying silently, “then I don’t know if I can worship you anymore.”
I had already stopped believing that He was good. How could He be, when He was allowing all this suffering? If He took my son from me, then not only was He ambivalent, He was cruel. And a cruel God didn’t deserve my worship.
Looking back on that time, I have compassion for myself in my suffering. When the fear is that overwhelming, it’s hard to see past present circumstances to what else God might be doing. But my view was so short-sighted, so fearfully narrow.
In my good desire to be a mother, I had turned my child’s life into an idol.
This is a hard lesson to learn, and difficult to understand at first. How could a God-given desire to be a parent, to have your child live and not die, be an idol? Isn’t it only natural that we should want something so precious, or value something that God also values?
But in saying that I could no longer worship God if He took my child, I placed a higher value on my son than I did on the One who created him.
This idol kept me from believing in God’s good character, and from trusting that my temporary experience was just a small part of a much bigger story, not just in my life but in the scope of eternity. I thought that if I lost my idol, myself and my faith, would fall apart.
There’s a verse I never understood until after my hospital experience. In it, Jesus says:
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25)
This is hard. Aren’t we also called to honor our father and mother in the Ten Commandments? Doesn’t God call us to be committed to loving our spouse as Christ loves the church, giving ourselves up for them? So how can Jesus be asking us to hate our family?
I realized after almost losing both my son and my God that Jesus isn’t telling us not to love the people in our lives. I believe that God loves it when we celebrate and are grateful for the blessings He has given us. But He doesn't want us to love our blessings more than we love Him. Jesus is telling us that our love for God should be so over and above our love for anything and anyone else that in comparison those other loves sometimes look like hate. Like how, for example, it might look like a mother hates her child if she keeps worshipping the God that took him from her.
Jesus is saying that God should be at the top of our list of loved ones, not second or fourth or sixth. That we should love and cling to God more than anyone else. That if we were to lose a member of our family, or have our days shortened by cancer, or declare bankruptcy, it should not keep us from continuing to worship God.
The prophet Habbakuk echoes this same radical worship:
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be in the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” (3:17, 18)
Habbakuk sees the coming punishment of Israel at the hands of the Chaldeans. He sees destruction and death of his people, evil and famine and gruesome murder. And yet he puts God above food, above safety, above national pride, above peace and security. He loves God more than he loves his own life.
Our truest, deepest worship comes from the depths of that pit when we feel as if we have lost or are in danger of losing something of immense value to us. If we can still lift up our hands and cry out with Habbakuk, “I will take joy in the God of my salvation,” then we can know we have no god except Him.
If we say that we can no longer worship God if He takes a certain something away from us, then we love that thing more than God. And if we love anything more than God, that thing is our idol.
You might still think that what I’m saying is a bit too extreme. But take a minute to examine your own life. Do you have something or someone you are terrified to lose? Something or someone that if God took it or them from you, you might be tempted to abandon faith altogether? Is it your children? Your spouse? Your house? Your job? Your health?
Christian, don’t be afraid to let go of that idol and put God at the top of your list of loves, because only when we worship God as our chief love can we escape our otherwise consuming fear of loss. When you realize that God’s love for you is the most valuable thing in the entire world, and that He has promised that nothing can separate us from Him in Christ, then you can never lose your most precious thing. This is true peace.
And, somehow, in the scope of eternity, we never really lose anything else either, as Jesus promises that “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfoldand will inherit eternal life” (Matt. 19:29). However this works, we can trust God to heal our hearts even in the most devastating losses if we lean on Him as our greatest treasure. We can have hope that He loves us and we will not fall apart.
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